The Outdoor Heritage Fund Is A Threat To Property Rights


In the first half of the legislative session the North Dakota House passed a bill, HB1278, to create the Outdoor Heritage Fund. The idea came from a ballot measure that was derailed by petition fraud last summer. It would create a panel of special interest groups that would decide how to spend $30 million in oil tax revenues per biennium on conservation projects.

Democrats have introduced a constitutional amendment just days ago, SCR4027, that more closely mirrors the ballot measure from last year, allowing up to $100 million for the fund.

The Grand Forks Herald calls the board that would be created to oversee the fund a conglomeration of “conservationist Hatfields and property-rights McCoys.” That’s probably a fair description, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why the legislature would want to outsource the conservation debate to a group of lobbyists and political activists who have no accountability to the voters.

That sounds like an abdication of the legislature’s policy-making and appropriation responsibilities. After all, why do only certain groups get a say in how the money is spent? What if new groups with interests in energy or conservation or property rights are created? What if we don’t need $30 million per year spent on conservation?

But beyond those problems, the potential for mission creep here is enormous. One of the primary selling points for this legislation is that the funds couldn’t be used to buy up land. This was a concession property rights proponents such as the North Dakota Farm Bureau and the Stockmen’s Association were interested in. Already, though, before the legislation has even become law the Herald is dreaming of ways to skirt that prohibition on buying up property:

State law restricts the Nature Conservancy and similar nonprofits from buying land. But matching grants tied to the Outdoor Heritage Fund would get around that restriction. This would enable the nonprofits as well as conservation-minded residents to donate. Philanthropic oil millionaires would find an outlet for their money, too. Many of them are looking for good ways to “give back” to the state.

Not only is the Outdoor Heritage Fund a totally inappropriate sop to special interest groups, enshrining their political cause and activism in an official state board, but we can see already how it will evolve into an instrument through which North Dakotans are denied the use of land for outdoor sports, energy development, ranching, agriculture, etc.

This is a bad idea. This is a can of worms the legislature shouldn’t open. This won’t end well for the proponents of fiscal responsibility and property rights.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Kevin Flanagan

    All of these special interest funds are nothing but political slush funds. Just follow the money! Who will be forced to pay for the lost taxes when these properties are removed from the tax roles? The state will never spend less than the money it taxes away from the private sector.

    • Rob

      There is a debate to be had about conservation, but it should be had by our elected officials not a bunch of special interests squabbling over a continuing appropriation.

      This is a bad, bad idea.

  • downwiththeoldguard

    so how is this to be interpreted?

    “Provide access to private and public lands for sportsmen, including projects that
    create fish and wildlife habitat and provide access for sportsmen;”

  • nimrod

    This state has always been against private property rights. You can legally enter another’s property without their permission unless they have a sign stating you can’t. This fund will artificially drive up the cost of private property.

  • Yogibare

    How often it is that we pay entrance or use fees to enter or traverse “public land”. Talk about keeping people out—no one is better at that than our U.S. Parks and Preserves.
    Want to go into a Park after hours? Sorry! The Park is closed. Come back tomorrow.
    So, now we want to acquire more reserved land for the government to control? They do not have the money to take care of what they now have. The sequester will hit the Parks first of all—the Government’s way of keeping people out—they just spoil things!

  • Paul Henderson

    This is bad legislation!
    ND farm groups– ND Farm Bureau, ND Farmers Union and ND Stockman’s Assn. supported it because the fund is suppossedly not to be used to buy land.
    Well let’s just say I’m a non profit with a 10 milion dollar budget. I put that 10 million in my right pocket, the state puts 30 million in my left pocket. Do you think I will figure out a way to buy land?

    The last time I looked, the state is already funding conservation. ND Game and Fish and NRCS– both with infrastructure and staff already funded.

    I would encourage the Senate to drop this bill to a study, putting conservation dollars to good use and not a knee-jerk reaction to a threat of an initiatied measure.
    We should not legislate in reaction to coercion

    • Rob

      My objection to this bill doesn’t even have anything to do with conservation. Maybe we need more conservation, and maybe we don’t.

      My objection is that this bill has the legislature giving away its power to a group of special interests.

      The debate about conservation shouldn’t happen among a bunch of unaccountable lobbyists and special interests. It should happen among our elected leaders.

    • tom

      Just want to correct one thing. NRCS is a federal agency. The state funds the State Soil Consevation Committee. They do work together tho.

  • camsaure

    Looks like another RINO plan to advance socialism without having to look to be responsible for causing it in the first place. Out of state interests? Where is the “keep it local” crowd now? What a bunch of hypocrits.

  • Hal801

    This is a bad idea. I have seen it in other states and it becomes so political that the money gets wasted on worthless projects. It also often allows the land to be owned privately by a non-profit “conservation” group that restricts access to the public after receiving the public grant to purchase the land.